Technology will disrupt the art-world, just not in the way you think


Lots of long-standing businesses have been disrupted in the past decade, you can quickly tick off several on your fingers right now. Music publishing from online digital downloads, vacations from the reputation economy ala Airbnb, finding an address or anything for that matter via google maps. Uber, full stop. I forced myself to stop at 3+1. But, you get the notion of disruption, it's all anyone in the tech world or venture funding business talks about.


I think the disruption of the art-world from technology will not happen cause we digitally reproduce prints, create artist portfolio sites online, or even buy objects from artists directly in the manner of ebooks or music. I think it will be disrupted because art production will become an algorithm. Art making is really a set of rules for combining images, shapes, pattern, rhythm -- and a set of processes for spitting out physical objects. I see a time when the art-world is democratized, by inexpensive to produce art objects that are beautiful, personalized and made just for you. With easy to recycle materials that you don't worry about storing or have them for a while and swap them out for something different without thinking -- poof from a pandora-like subscription service.

Noooooooo you think, what about Van Gogh or Warhol, those are art objects of enormous could the art market be transformed by something like a smart robot? Well, you can see the beginning -- artificial intelligence software writes sports stories and financial updates, news services are quietly using 'robots' to pump out posts, update twitter and feed the beast of hourly reporting. The rules for writing are in fact an algorithm that can spit out intelligible output. Same can be true for art.


In the case of art, it ceases to simply be an object of admiration or decoration. Art can become personal, like the work I make...self-tracking data turned into pattern as data portraits. Your sleep, time-use, mood, travel patterns, food intake, bio-markers  -- the data that describes your unconscious behavior, that makes-you-you can be turned into art. And here is the kicker that makes it addictive, these textured patterns pulled from your seamlessly collected human data feed your emotional need for a connection to the self.


Your brain can't tell the difference from meditative self-reflection or the intake of a personal data-selfie. It just knows that it's feeding the human-loop that you require to feel grounded, mindful, alive. Research will show having these images around you more than 4 hours a day will boost your immune system, and what-the-hell, 3D printed textures are nice on the empty walls of your apartment. Art will circle back to something everyone lives with easily, it's not the rarefied stuff stashed away in museums. Art becomes the way you consume data and updates about yourself.

So abstract art is not your thing. The algorithm can be dialed to landscapes, interiors or portraits with the look of high realism, spray-paint graffiti or extra painterly texture -- just tick the options. Disruption will come when technology makes art meaningful to you personally, it reflects your personal data, is cheap, recyclable and ultimately makes you feel better.

Personal data beginning to feel less sinister

The mood about data has shifted, an article in the Atlantic written by Jacoba Urist published yesterday, signals the change. Personal data has been something to hide, to fear and worry over privacy...but now it's viewed as a commodity, fodder for art making. Location, steps, heart-rate, spending, clicks, likes are the medium, the material for art. To me, it feels like the world is catching up. Data has become the new medium for art makers. If art reflects the times, the way data artists are responding and using data gives us a clue how this moment of personal data invasion will be seen in ten or twenty years. Watching what artists do now will let us see the future. And the future of data is positive, I absolutely think it will be the source of self-knowing. As Jacoba writes, a high-resolution view into yourself.


Excerpts from the incredibly well argued and written article from Jacoba Urist.

"A number of artists, scholars, and curators also believe that working with this data isn’t just a matter of reducing human beings to numbers, but also of achieving greater awareness of complex matters in a modern world. Art confronts the uncertainty of human existence: Why am I alive? What makes me different from anybody else?Handprints made some 40,000 years ago, are a common feature of Upper Paleolithic cave art—a kind of prehistoric selfie. National Geographic describes the early artists as sending a timeless message: “Like you, I am human. I am alive. I was here.”


So it’s unsurprising that many data artists are responding to an increasingly data-saturated culture. After all, almost every human interaction with digital technology now generates a data point—each credit-card swipe, text, and Uber ride traces a person’s movements throughout the day. The smartphone, as The Economistrecently described, is a true personal computer, the defining innovation of the era, on par with the mechanical clock or the automobile in past centuries."

“Have you ever thought about how much is known about you?” Frick asked in one of our conversations. Not what pops up in Google or on social media, she clarified, but what companies know about your character. If you have a Kindle, Amazon knows how fast you finish a book, and whether you’re a cheater and skip chapters or read the ending first. Netflix knows whether you’re a binge watcher. E-ZPass knows where you go, even on local streets. Frick understands that this type of data collection can cause discomfort. Few of us like the idea that the government or Google is watching our every move. As a data artist, however, she sees her role as convincing people to want more personal data—regardless of who’s tracking.


“In all of these patterns, I do think there is an essential idea of who we are,” Frick said. Data art can’t capture the essence or totality of somebody—if either exists—any more than a handprint on a cave wall can. But she believes personalized data art can accomplish something traditional art forms can’t: It allows a viewer to see her nuances and idiosyncrasies in higher resolution—and to discover things she may have forgotten about herself or perhaps has never known. “I think people are at a point where they are sick of worrying about who is or isn’t tracking their data,” said Frick. “I say, run toward the data. Take your data back and turn it into something meaningful.” To prove her point, she’s developed a free app, Frickbits, which allows anyone to “create the ultimate data-selfie,” by turning personal data into personalized art.  

"Yet the question remains whether data art can endure as much as a simple, striking handprint on a cave wall. On the one hand, data art may just be a link in a chain of artists who record and display their personal movements— some of whom will be displayed at the world’s leading museums decades from now, some who will fall by the wayside. On the other, data art may be the apogee of self-expression—a digital fingerprint that says more about modern man, and the inevitable forward march of time, than anything artists have been able to produce before."

Will a data-selfie boost your immune system?


What does all our personal data add up to? Is it a boon to big data marketers helping companies mine your personal data or just a nightmare scenario for complete loss of privacy? As an artist who grew up in the tech industry and loves technology, I have thought about a future where personal data could become meaningful. Maybe all this vaguely unpleasant surveillance and data gathering about us could turn into a surprisingly insightful view of ourselves and be delivered in ways that will be irresistible. In the future I imagine human data portraits manifested from reams of personal tracking data gathered invisibly as we move thru the day. Genuine data-selfies. We are so close to gathering every possible morsel of data about us, imagine what could be possible once you owned every bit of data gathered about you. After some thought, I decided it’s more than just seeing personal data and abstract patterns of you. It’s about what these patterns will tell us about ourselves. Data collected about us will unfold a personal narrative and story to reveal a hidden part of us we are trained to ignore, a way to know ourselves and anticipate what comes next. Perhaps seeing the abstract patterns and rhythms of your self-tracking data is a short-cut to mindfulness. A quick and dirty way to boost your immune system, the benefits of meditation and self-reflection without much effort.

We describe self-tracking in Calvinist utilitarian terms using fitness and health examples, the real fuel will be the desire to understand ourselves. While social-media, Twitter and Facebook tapped into the basic emotional desire for bonding and connection to other people, the personal data phenomenon will tap into the basic emotional desire to know ourselves. To see yourself, the part of you that’s invisible to you. To understand and anticipate. Who am I?

The tyranny of tiny tasks

I wasn't expecting much from the apple watch announcement, I wore a Basis watch for 9 months and have been wearing the much cuter Android Gear from Samsung. No surprise -- sensors, batterylife, tethered to a phone, what can you do on a watchface...problems are still a cobbled mess. But, I've been looking at all the reviews with great interest this week to see the blogosphere weigh in. And this is the most insightful Seth Feigerman citing Tim Wu in a Mashable article.

"It's the productivity side, I realized after a few hours of thinking, that makes me sweat. I recalled one paragraph in particular that writer Tim Wu published last month in The New Yorker discussing the downside of "convenience technology" like the smartphone:

Our technologies may have made us prosthetic gods, yet they have somehow failed to deliver on the central promise of free time. The problem is that, as every individual task becomes easier, we demand much more of both ourselves and others. Instead of fewer difficult tasks (writing several long letters) we are left with a larger volume of small tasks (writing hundreds of emails). We have become plagued by a tyranny of tiny tasks, individually simple but collectively oppressive. And, when every task in life is easy, there remains just one profession left: multitasking.

2015-02-10 12.52.16The "tyranny of tiny tasks," as Wu called it, may only get more tyrannical if the Apple Watch draws in more developers and users, pushing the smartwatch beyond the early adopter community. Computers shifted us from writing occasional time-consuming letters to writing a mounting number of emails. Smartphones allowed us to fire off an exponentially larger number of emails as well as quicker messages through other applications."

I'm still in the studio making new works built on 'time', the way we feel time, use time and place ourselves solidly in time. Something has shifted, and we're all feeling it.

Time is both squishy and stretchy

Leather, blocks and a little nail. Color coded by activity, and sized by duration. Time-use piece in development. You know who you are by where you are in TIME. When you get knocked out, and come to….the first thing the doctor asks is “what is your name” …and “what day is it?” Who you are and where you are in time is vital to your grasp of consciousness, your sense of self.

Time is sequential, ordered and related to what comes just before or after. It’s the one thing we have that is pretty-much free and simultaneously valuable. Even though we don’t let ourselves think about it….time for each of us is finite. Do we agonize, procrastinate or consciously think about how we spend our time?

I’ve been reading tons of physics books about time lately, and I’ve begun to consider how abstract the notion of time can be. What really is it? We measure and remember time from the activities we do in time. But time is squishy and stretchy, some things are tedious, boring and go on forever, or time slips by without notice.

We make split-second decisions about what we do now, next and then after that…how we spend our time must be a reflection of our basic nature.

Time_tracking_detail_smIt’s become so easy to track your time, I turned Moment on my iphone and know how often I touch the screen and how many minutes I looked at my phone today. Manictime on my laptop tracks every click, every website and app I use. Some days it’s scary how many hours I spent online when I thought I was making stuff in the studio all day. Think of everything else that tracks your time.... your car knows how fast you pressed on the gas pedal and every minute you drove today. The MTA pass, the security swipe at work, your front door probably knows when you walked into your apartment.

Time is measured, and we are so close to knowing exactly how we spent every minute of it. and we are so close to knowing exactly how we spent every minute of it.

If we are what we do, will tracking time help me understand who I am?

Do you feel bad about how you spend your time?

I always thought how you spend your time was like women buying shoes... no matter what else is happening with how clothes fit your body at any moment, it's always fun to try on shoes. You feel good about shoes. I imagined people were like that about their time. I'm learning the answer is NO. After scrolling thru Amazon unlimited looking at hundreds and hundreds of books on time management, I asked a friend how there could possibly be so many books published on getting control of your time. And the friend blankly looked at me and said "because people feel bad about how they spend their time". Every click online, in vertical columns of 15 mins from morning til evening. Numbers are time in seconds. Which is all very curious because I'm investigating the notion that YOU are your time, you are defined by how you spend your time, the activities and even unconscious use of time says loads about your psyche, your personality and your inner-self. Your sense of who you are is based on the recollection of recent events, and what you are doing and intend to do. It's your basic orientation in the world.

If you hit your head in a car accident, the very first question is "What day is it, can you tell me your name?". To be cognizant in the world is to know who you are in time. Are you connected and aware of time and place...etc, etc. It's so basic, we rarely even notice time. For the most part we have control over the many, many decisions for what we do and how time is used.

Yeah, yeah we have a job, go to work, return calls to clients, have deadlines. But even within what is believed to be a tightly constrained world, we make decisions about our time. All those little decisions add up to your life. Little bits make the whole.

I'm intensely curious about the unconscious spurts of time that drive the pattern or rhythm of time as you work online. As I write this, there are fast clicks as I spew out a fast phrase, and then pause as I decide how to make the second half of this sentence connect and make sense. Even as you click, click, pause, click as you read and delete emails, or flip thru research. How much do you read and how fast do you click a link. There is a rhythm to the clicks.

Manictime is a backgroud app that runs on my laptop to capture every click, every app, webpage, link...everything I do as I work. Have run it for almost 3 years and I know my time online has a rhythm. (Oh jeez, I just grabbed the manictime link and realized it's described in google as a 'time management' app, ugh...sorry.)

I know my mornings are a burst of clicks...and afternoons are slower, longer as I read things or work on longer things. Am right in the midst of working this out, and imagining the physicality of your time in textured pattern. Would you recognize yourself? Do you swing wildly, or have a repetitive pattern like hearing the chorus of the melody over and over and over? If you read this and have any ideas about how you see yourself in time -- message me (not here, I turned off comments on my blog ages need to explain.) I'm easy to find online.

FRICKbits is live!! It's free, no catch. Download it now.

2014-10-31 08.55.39 download_button

Don't hesitate, hit the download now. It's going to take you a few days, weeks to really collect enough data to actually have it feel like art or anything resembling your patterns. Don't worry, I never see your data, everything all resides on your phone. If you are super curious, --go to my FRICKbits site, the privacy policy is on the front page.

It's taken years to get this first step. I almost can't believe it's live.

And this is just the beginning, I believe all that data and surveillance about you is meaningful. Perhaps the secret to figuring out who you are, rather than hide…I say grab it all. “Take back your data and turn it into art”. This app will get better, the algorithm will convey more and have more complexity. Just get started. !!